Derby County are our FA Cup third round opponents this Sunday as we begin what will hopefully be a journey all the way to the final in May.

We reached the semi final stage last season after sending Manchester United out in the quarterfinals, only to lose 1-2 to Manchester City at Wembley.  Jose Mourinho led us to victory in the tournament back in 2007 in the first final at the new Wembley, and would love to repeat it.

The third round tie comes at a good time for Chelsea, having beaten Liverpool at home and Southampton away in our last two matches, with great performances in each.  It was especially pleasing to watch the manor in which we won both these matches, as we had struggled to string good performances together up until now, but solid defensive displays and flowing attacking moves in both fixtures has raised confidence levels.  Even when struggling to kill teams off before these results, more often than not a win has been managed, and this has left us well and truly in the fight for the Premier league title.  Hopefully Chelsea can continue this form into Sunday and beyond, and string a run of good results together in league and cup.

What was most pleasing to see in the win over Southampton was our good attacking play resulting in chances being converted that saw the opposition off.  The crucial second goal that gave us a two goal cushion is what we have not done enough this season, and it was a relief to see this happen, and even better to see us go on and score a third.  If we can do the same at Pride Park, confidence in our scoring abilities would be reinforced, and it would not be a surprise if we could then continue scoring freely for the rest of the season.  If Eto’o, Ba or Torres could find the net then that could be the catalyst they require to take chances on a more regular basis.  Often in the past a couple of goals for a striker has set them of on a great run of form, and with the regularity that chances have been created lately then any of these guys hitting form could really have us looking like a devastating force.  It was certainly a confident performance from Fernando Torres against Southampton, looking sharp and direct from the outset, unlucky with two chances of his own making early on, and showing great instinct to react quickest in the box for his goal.

Derby County cannot be taken for granted though, especially at Pride Park.  Since the appointment of Steve McLaren they have experienced a significant upturn in form, and are certainly in contention for promotion.  They lie fourth in the Championship as it stands, but despite losing at home to Wigan in their last match, they have won eight of their last eleven fixtures, four of those at home against the likes of Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday, and a 5-1 mauling of Blackpool.  Chelsea will have to be defensively astute again if a result is to be gained.

Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic are ruled out through injury; David Luiz is available after suspension.  Mourinho will no doubt rotate a few players from the new years day win at Southampton, as this is the last of the tightly packed match schedule over the holidays.  The team will have a weeks rest after this match for the first time since the 23rd of November when we beat West Ham United 0-3 away.  Lets hope we head into next weeks fixture with Hull already in the fourth round of the FA cup.

Michael Martin

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